New Precedents & Research

September 30, 2008

This week I focused on two aspects of last week’s feedback because I wanted to be more thoroughly focused on the aesthetic background of the next prototype. I focused on the Precedents and Research areas which are explained below. Precedents could influence a visualization of free form poetry or a pictographic data visualization.

P R E C E D E N T S: Concrete Poetry, Visual Poetry, & Typographics:

Muriel Cooper

  • one of the first graphic designers to apply her skills to the computer screen
  • make the images on our computers as clear and appealing as the best-designed printed graphics
  • saw typography as a prime element for visual experimentation
  • saw typography as a prime element for visual experimentation
  • experiments with documents and her own texts

The Virtual Shakespeare Project was created to explore the design of a large body of textual information being the complete plays of William Shakespeare. The amount of text is on the order of one million words and the work itself has many structures that can be made visible: speeches, scenes, acts, and so forth. A rendering model was developed that is optimized for rapid navigation and changes in scale. If your viewpoint is close to the text it will be fully rendered. If it is farther away, and therefore smaller on the display, a simplified texture is used in place of each line of text. This technique, called greeking, maintains the overall shape of each line, although individual words are lost. As distance increases to the point where each line of text blurs into the next, each block of text is drawn as a simple rectangle of the same size and overall density. Breaks between the dialog of different characters are used as the delineator for the larger text blocks. Even at a great distance, the reader can still follow who was speaking and how much was said. The final stage comes when the dialogs become so small as to merge together. At this point each scene is rendered as a simple rectangle. As we move back to include ever larger amounts of information in our view, the display of the information becomes more abstract while maintaining visual continuity.


Some interesting quotes from and about Muriel:

“Designers know a lot about how to control perception, how to present information in some way that helps you find what you need, or what it is they think you need. Information is only useful when it can be understood.”

“I don’t think there are answers. I think there are thoughts.”

“Too often, the role of the designer is to clothe a set of messages they’ve had no participation in. Here is a book. You didn’t write it. You don’t change it except insofar as you present the information somebody else has generated. You’re not really collaborating, either, because the stuff is here, and accomplished fact. I decided I had to wash that out of my head and impose my own problems.”

“She showed that information screens filled with cryptic code could be filled with elegant typography, luscious colors and lively animations.”

2. Jenny Holzer

  • Worked with text as art
  • main focus of her work is the use of words and ideas in public space
  • influenced by the ‘clean, simple variations’ of minimalist aesthetics in artists like donald judd, mark rothko and morris louis
  • use of language provokes a critical response in the viewer

Jenny Holzer at the Neue Nationalgalerie explores these and other meanings of Holzer’s work via a multi-perspectival documentation of a specific exhibition at a precise moment in space and time.
Combining video, animation, scholarly essays, photographs, and a wealth of other information, the project at one level functions as a multimedia catalog or database, deploying many forms of media to ‘preserve’ the inherently ephemeral experience of the art exhibition. This kind of ‘thick description’ allows multiple points of entry into both the Neue Nationalgalerie exhibit and into Holzer’s work more generally.

“WHITE” 2006

“number of declassified documents transcribed, and we showed them on LEDs so that the writing would stream by like more bad news than one can bear.”

Project for “Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin”, Edition No. 46 1993

“Xenon for Rio de Janeiro” 1999

“Truisms” 1977–79

Similar artists: Barbera Kruger & Martin Firrell

This is truly ridiculous / amazing: The Word Project

This is also really insane: http://www.secrettechnology.com/

Organic Approaches

Some work by Boris Müller, a professor at the Interface Design programme of the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, http://www.esono.com/boris/projects

The shape and the colour of each object represent a letter, the angle of each object represents the language of the poem:

The words in the poems are visualised as leafs. Here the rules are very simple. The amount of letters in a word is represented by the number of spikes on a leaf. The word »poetry« would therefore be represented by a leaf with 5 spikes. Furthermore, the letter sequence in a word also controls the overall shape of a leaf – the roundness of the shapes, the length of the spikes and the density of the colour. The size of the leaves depends on the length of the poem:

This poetry visualization treats every word in a poem as a tag. Using the Flickr API, the application sends every word to Flickr and simply takes the first image from the returning list. Each word in the poem is repaced by a photo. However, not the entire photo is used. The photo is cropped depending on the length and the frequency of the word. The horizontal axis is defined by the length of the word, the vertical one by its frequency:

The form of the visuals is directly linked to the inner structure of the text. The aim was to visualise the nature and texture of poems. A text is considered to be a line that starts with the first letter and ends with the last. The shape of this line is determined by the sequence of the letters. Every letter is a symbol for a modification of the next element of the line. Therefore, a single letter can change the overall apperance of the line. As every letter is connected to a specific set of commends, the line is not random. The same text will always generate the same image:

R E S E A R C H : Linguistic Style

Concrete Poetry: (from Wikipedia)

It is the typographical arrangement of words is as important in conveying the intended effect as the conventional elements of the poem, such as meaning of words, rhythm, rhyme and so on. It is sometimes referred to as visual poetry; a term that has evolved to have distinct meaning of its own, because the words themselves form a picture.

The idea of using letter arrangements to enhance the meaning of a poem is an old one. This style of poetry originated in Greek Alexandria during the third and second centuries B.C.E.

The original manifesto says:

Concrete poetry begins by assuming a total responsibility before language: accepting the premise of the historical idiom as the indispensable nucleus of communication, it refuses to absorb words as mere indifferent vehicles, without life, without personality without history – taboo-tombs in which convention insists on burying the idea.:
  • experimental poetics that explore radical changes and possibilities in both its vision and manner
  • visual metaphor of modern sensibility – the center falling apart
  • takes over the page dominating with shape, shade, and even tease of imagery, symbolism, and other “literary” paraphernalia
  • it explodes, moving our consciousness beyond the edge of the book, ending one step short of its logical conclusion – the denial of not only the arbitrary authority of page but of all perceptive possibility
  • “charitable” ending ist he ultimate artistic statement, the artist controlling reality for his own purposes, intimidated neither by logic nor metaphysics, responsible rather to his own sense of reality than to rules of validity
  • Coherence is in the eye of the beholder – alludes to and questions both the need for and humanistic value of “coherence”
  • the concretist asks his “reader” to stand on his head if necessary to read it – poem is closer than ever to his pure imagination

Also related / similar to Haptic Poetry, Lyrical Conceptualism


e.e. cummings:

  • Poems from the 1920s are styled to represent an attempt to duplicate the spirit of Dadaism > poems seem closer to assemblage = random patterning developed by the Dadaists, than any literary style
  • captures a scene and arranges the text in the same cognitive manner that someone takes in an environment that they have entered (“taking it all in” – type of feeling)
  • 1930-1962 poems are more controlled: scrambled word order in syntactic anagram, displays semantic possibilities by stretches, squeezes, and intensifies typographical acrobatics or grammatical innnovations
  • shows his basic outlook on life: vitality/”aliveness” displayed through vigor, wit, or physical expression of the uniqueness of being

Mathematical Theory of Communication

  • Entropy = measure of uncertainty, degree of randomness, tendency of system to become less organized
  • Information in communication theory is associated with the amount of freedom of choice we have in constructing messages


  • Words to use in lieu of “lyrical”: visual poetry or [visual] dynamic expression ?
  • Will I portray the topography of global entropy’s media driven landscape?
  • Incorporate color and word/letter associations: certain colors represent certain words or letters, similar to typographics
  • Keep text legible
  • Could the interface’s activity be driven by the most salient words from the data collection?
  • Use the DayLife API – aggregates news from thousands of online sources from all over the world

Next Steps:

  1. What kind of filter my project will instigate between the media hype of massive change and the scientific aspect of massive change
  2. Where the communication coming from and what specifically I’m capturing
  3. If the data visualization is representing Massive Change or something else that is still related to the topic
  4. How the system is structured as being entropic and generative

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